Mekong Delta, Food, and Throwing Caution to the Wind

I got back from the Mekong Delta trip, of which I have mixed reviews but I might get to that later. You can see pictures on my flickr page (to the right). I actually took over 120 pictures in less than two days. I narrowed it down to only 67 to upload from my camera and 11 that I actually uploaded onto here (because I have to shrink them, which is time consuming).

I have not eaten fish since I was last forced to by the parental units, which was sometime between the ages of 7 and 10. The Mekong Delta being the Mekong Delta, we have had five straight meals where fish was the main course or the only course. In the past 48 hours, I have eaten shrimp (which I’ve decided I like), squid (which is okay, but it takes too long to chew), and elephant fish.
Also in the realm of new food that I have eaten: [pig] liver, pig’s heart, catfish, Guava Juice (which is wicked good), dragon fruit, Quả Măng Cụt, Quả Đu Đủ (Papaya, only better than the ones they sell in the States), and Quả Nhãn. I don’t know the names of most of them in English off the top of my head, but I think this site covers most of them.
(Note: The shrimp, pig’s liver and heart, and squid were all in one dish called Hu Tuai – don’t quote my spelling on that one. I had that for breakfast.)

Oh! and I also drank -ehum- a few shots of rice wine. Mind, not enough to turn me into a stupid drunk American, just enough for me to smile happily and stare at the stars for awhile and get lightheaded when I make any sudden movements. It tastes like vodka only a little sweeter. I’ll get to the snake wine in a bit.

I was really proud of my new-food eating in such a short period of time (most of that was in one day), especially the seafood. However, I balked at the fourth meal of fish and couldn’t bring myself to eat fish for breakfast – again.
I can see that I am going to miss blueberry pancakes and maple syrup a lot. Oh, and cream of wheat. And bagels. And maybe just all breakfast food, period.

Driving through this part of Vietnam made me feel awkward. It is not as well off as HCMC, and it was not uncommon to see your steel shantys. The people have continuously been very friendly and helpful (sometimes too helpful, they tend to place the food out for you when really, it’s not like you don’t know how to eat it, it’s that you didn’t want a chunk of fish eye in your bowl of rice) even when there’s a language barrier.
The people here, their mannerisms, jokes, and how they relate to each other, kind of reminds me of the French Canadian side of my family. It is hard to explain, though I am sure my father would relate to them well enough if he could realize just how capitalist the culture of this country really is.

This trip was planned by a tour company, which is apparently unusual for CIEE trips. The trip planning itself wast kind of awful, led by the fact that the guide (who spoke excellent English) did not feel the need to tell us anything about what we were doing. We would think that we would be leaving the hotel that morning (as we were led to believe), when no! there’s a forty minute bike trip to a random pagoda on the island, that would be cool if it wasn’t made uninformed and thus in jeans and sans asthma inhaler. Grump.

side note: I just left to get dinner down the road with Erin, so those of you who read it before 8:45am EST did not get the whole story as I accidentally posted it when I went to edit. We are living in a very local neighborhood, it is not the tourist or backpacker district, subsequently we stand out more. We went to a family owned restaurant where the menu was only in Vietnamese. (And all the customers were only Vietnamese, neighborhood restaurant, we got stares.) Now, we have quickly learned “beef” (bò) and “chicken” (gà) so we can get ourselves by by guessing based on the main ingredient. While we were pawing over the menu, the owner came over and suggested (somewhat strongly?) a beef dish we shrugged and ordered it.
She had us order the Vietnamese Equivalent of a Burger.
I’m not kidding, it was complete with french fries and lettuce/tomato – only the beef was cut up and in a sort of sauce. When we asked for some co’m (rice) we got uncooked instant noodles after everything was done, instead.
Amusing, the cultural implications in all of that.

During our whole tour of the Mekong Delta, we had a camera guy following us around. Apparently we will be on HCMC News or something like that. I hate it that we were on camera, that we didn’t know why, and that we weren’t given an option. I think it was some sort of deal between the tour company, which is why the director didn’t know about it.
Oh, so snake wine: it is rice wine with fermented snake. They sold some at the place we stayed at, and I bought a little bottle with about two shots in it (anyone want to partake?). So I now have a hotel mini bar sized bottle of rice wine with a probably endangered cobra in it. Yes, I am technically not allowed to bring it back into the states with me. Shh. Let’s just say it won’t be mailed home with the rest of the souvenirs.
It is sitting on my bedside table until I know what to do with it. I spent VND 30,000 on it, or less than two dollars. (Pictures of a bigger one to your right)

So, every guidebook and doctor has said many things about health in Southeast Asia. In fact, so many things that it is impossible to enjoy the food and life here if you follow all of them to a T.
Examples? Don’t have ice. Don’t brush your teeth with the water, let alone drink it.  Don’t  eat excessive amounts of seafood. Don’t swim in non-salty bodies of water.

Done it, all of those. Except for the drinking of the water, with bottled water colder and only around VND 5000 (~33 cents/bottle), it’s not exactly a strain. If I couldn’t have ice, I could not enjoy my Vietnamese Coffee. Brushing your teeth with bottled is a pain in the ass, especially when the city water is considered safe enough to do that with it. And how the hell are you supposed to avoid seafood in this culture?
Oh, and I went swimming in the Mekong Delta. Not the Mekong River, rather a tributary whose name escapes me now.
All of us are doing this.
No diarrhea yet. It is, however, only the third full day.

The money thing is weird here. If I hand someone a VND 50,000 note for food it’s like dropping big bucks – and its only around USD3. I’ve already gotten quite used to it and I am subsequently appalled at my laundry charges – VND 45,000 for 4 t-shirts, 2 bras, 4 pairs of underwear, pjs, and 2 pairs of jeans. That’s almost $3 for not even a whole load! Give me my laundrymat any day. I don’t MIND doing laundry.

Anyway. I need to practice some uh, language skills. So I don’t get served the Vietnamese concept of a hamburger again.

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2 Responses to Mekong Delta, Food, and Throwing Caution to the Wind

  1. Jonathan says:

    The Japanese, too, have no concept of breakfast as meal that is different in kind from any other meal. Often we were served leftover dinner for breakfast!!! You get used to it!!! I look forward to checking out the photos you posted…..

    Love, UJ

  2. jackson says:

    at one of my old jobs, my boss had a big bottle of snakewine.
    that shit is crazy.

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